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Scottish Hangman

John Murdoch, for a period of above 20 years, his stalwart form and grim visage, partially concealed by an old high-necked waterproof, were seen as the presiding genius at every scaffold which was created throughout Scotland, and at not a few in the north of England. Murdoch, who was a baker, came to Glasgow from the north, and was even then advanced in life. He was in poor circumstances, and contrived to get some humble employment about the corporation property. It happened that about this time Tarn Young, the last functionary who had a formal appointment and a regular salary, and who wore the executioner's official costume, was getting rather shaky, and accordingly Murdoch was retained as a sort of assistant or stand-by. On Young's death he got a monopoly of the trade, such as it is; but, as he had neither the official appointment nor the regular pay, he was remunerated by the job. He took to the work quite genially, and as he regarded his own functions as perfectly necessary to the good government, he did not fail to be on perfectly comfortable terms with himself. As his person became known in Glasgow, however, he found it convenient for his comfort to remove from the city, and took up his residence sometimes in Paisley, sometimes in Kilmarnock, sometimes in the adjacent villages, such as Motherwell, and was even recognized officiating as a pastrybaker's assistant at a fashionable Clyde watering-places.

Glasgow Courier 16 April 1803. Wanted, for the City of Glasgow, an Executioner. The bad character of the person who last held the office having brought on it a degree of discredit which it by no means deserves, the Magistrates are determined to accept of none but a sober well-behaved man. The emoluments are considerable.

Watching A Scottish Hanging. To the man of feeling, there is not a more horrible sight to be seen, as a fellow creature in this wretched state; how alive we are then to the power of death, and how grieved to the soul that we can render no relief. I was never able to stand the scene but once, and will never try it again, unless abruptly compelled. I do not think death itself will be more difficult for me to endure than that appalling scene was. Once too, that restless being within me, Curiosity, dragged me to see the execution of a young man, when in Edinburgh, but she'll drag well if she drags me back again to see such a spectacle. I was not myself, Mactaggart, for a month afterwards, my mind was so disordered with the sight. In a curious way wrought the phrenzy (as I am one who speaks my mind), I tell this. I felt an inclination, both during night, when dream after dream whirled through my brain's airy halls, and in the day-time, to do some crime or other, that I might meet with a similar fate. Whether this is ever the way with any other person, I cannot tell, but so it operated on me, and which has caused me ever since to say, that hanging, instead of scaring from crime, has a strong tendency the other way. May God keep me far from seeing again any in the dead-throws.

John MacTaggart, 1797-1830.

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